We leave the Santa Maria della Via Vittoria and walk westward through the Via Quirinale and first arrive at the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane on our left hand side, and then we see the Sant’Andrea al Quirinale.
The architecture of the Cornaro chapel that we just saw is fully in service of the sculpture within and it more or less acts as a frame for the story. When Bernini is tasked by the Jesuits to construct the Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, he finally has the chance to design an independent building. A building where sculpting and painting play a major role, but are not pivotal anymore.
The church is part of a monastery complex that the Jesuits used to train the non-consecrated monks: the novices. The Jesuits took control of this complex in 1566. First there was an old, simple square church with five altars. Around 1650, the Jesuits wanted to radically change the aging monastery, but also the church. However, they struggled to finance this. And so they went looking for benefactors. They seemed to succeed twice, only to have it fail at the very last moment. For instance, cardinal Francesco Adriano Ceva wanted to donate a fair amount. An architect was already rallied, Borromini at that. Pope Innocenti X’s favourite architect, who had designed the close-by church, the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Still, it was this very pope who denied it from happening. He refused to have the view from the Palazzo Quirinale spoiled by the rise of a new building.
2. Chapel of Francis Xavier
3. Chapel of Agony
4. Chapel of Stanislas Kostka
5. Chapel of Ignatius of Loyola
6. Main altar
7. Access to the novitiate and to the rooms of St. Stanislaus Kostka
The Sant’Andrea al Quirinale is located close to the palazzo of the same name. This palace, now the residence of the president of Italy, was first home to the clergy. Originally a villa, the popes wanted to use this building in the 16th century. Popes Paul V (Bernini) and Alexander VII preferred staying in this palace than at the Vatican. Under their rule, the palace was given an extra wing at the Via Pia towards the east. This was the so-called manica lunga, or, the ‘long sleeve.‘ This long sleeve is attributed to Bernini by some. The three-story wing was built between 1656 and 1659. This allowed the popes to continue working from this quiet neighbourhood with its vineyards and gardens.
Soon after the foundations of the Sant’Andrea al Quirinale were placed in 1658, people already considered it an architectonic masterpiece. The biographer, Filippo Baldinucci, describes how Gian Lorenzo’s son, Domenico, happens to meet him in this church. Bernini then tells his son that he tends to come here to find solace and comfort for his work. Gian Lorenzo considered this small church to be his best work.
When the new wings of the Palazzo Quirinale are completed and pope Alexander VII grants the construction of a new church across from his palace, cardinal Camillo Pamphili offers the Jesuits fifteen thousand scudi for the church. The Jesuits were all too happy to accept this offer. Of course, this offer was not entirely without a favour.
When we stand in front of the church and enter, the coat of arms (inside) of the Pamphili family (window and the doves above the capital of the column) is difficult to overlook. It was pope Alexander VII who requested Bernini to design a church for the neighbours on the other sides, the Jesuits.
At the church, I will use a few A3 papers to explain how Bernini slowly but surely reached his design for it. The first design (left pentagonal map and entirely to the right the old church) was completely different from the actual final church.
In his first design, Gian Lorenzo proceeded from a pentagonal plan. The nice thing is that the different design plans have all been preserved. The paper and the texts belong to pope Alexander VII, who was friends with Bernini. This pope was very interested in his designs. In Bernini’s second design, we see an oval plan, but with the side-wings missing. The black lines the denote the design by Bernini, while the other lines indicate the 1566 building. To the right of the church with the oval plan, Gian Lorenzo simplified and extended the sacristy. The existing monastery complex had to undergo serious renovation here and there.
The surprising thing is that Gian Lorenzo did not design the church with its decorations in one sitting. As he was building, he changed around various parts and added a second lantern and two concave side-wings for the wall.
In his third design, Bernini came up with the idea to build a second lantern, right above the main altar. When you enter, you won’t notice how small this church actually is. The very detailed plan and lighting sets your focus first and foremost on the main altar. The altar is flanked by a pair of red and fluted columns that stand out by the amount of light they receive.
As with the recess in the Cornaro chapel, the parts that are important receive the most light. But as soon as you’ve seen this, your gaze will wander along the oval. Bernini employed a clever trick to have the short axis, the line from the entrance to the main altar, be more noticeable than the long axis. He achieved this by centring the light on the main altar, instead of the recesses to the left and right of the long axis.
The idea of a second lantern arose under influence of the decorations that still needed to be designed. Construction of the church was completed relatively fast. The foundations were placed in 1658, the oval dome was completed in 1659 and in 1661 both the lantern and the oculus were finished.
The decorations began afterwards. It took sixteen years for the decorations to be completed. A lack of money and the passing of Camillo Pamphili severely delayed constructions. A whopping 138 figures are depicted on the ceiling including putti, fishermen, friends of Andrew and of course the holy person himself.
We know from the Racconto, written by the Jesuits, that Bernini monitored the activities of his assistants closely, including Antonio Raggi. He was responsible for the figures, and Pietro Sassi decorated the dome. We can read that Bernini himself scaled the scaffolds to check the work. If he didn’t like a figure, he’d adjust it or have it remade as per his very clear, new instructions. For the figure of Andrew, Bernini made a small model so that his assistant Raggi knew exactly what to do. The Racconto expressly mentions that the figure that ascends into heaven with its segment-shaped fronton in front of the main altar is the anima, or, the soul of the holy Andrew.
Andrew, Petrus’ brother, was sentenced to crucifixion because he preached the gospel. When those who captured him tried to take him from the cross to kill him, he urged them: ‘leave me to hang, so I may die at the cross’ The men did not respect his wish. They attempted to cut the ropes that kept him bound to the cross, but suddenly their limbs were paralysed and they could not perform their task. According to the medieval story of Jacob de Voragine, Andrew called out to them:
“Command my body unto the earth, so that it behoveth no more to wake, but let it be stretched freely to thee, which art fountain of joy never failing. And when he had said this, there came from heaven a right great shining light, which environed him by the space of half an hour, in such wise that no man might see him. And when this light departed he yielded and rendered therewith his spirit.” Jacobus de Voragine The Golden Legend: The life of S. Andrew p. 104
Bernini likely considered during his time spent drawing (these designs were preserved) that it would make sense to build a second lantern for the outside light to fall directly onto the painting of the crucifixion of Andrew. Above the painting, gilded angels of plaster led the light from the lantern towards the painting. Here we see that Bernini, just as in the Cornaro chapel, used indirect light to reach a dramatic effect.
A book by the Jesuits from 1662 with a report about the old Sant’Andrea al Quirinale explains why the altar piece with the crucifixion of Andreas was so important to the novices. It was able to turn the monks in training into fine soldiers. ‘The book about Spiritual paintings’ by Louis Richeome explains how this painting made the novice aware that Andrew should serve as an example to him. The vows of this saint are like ropes that keep him to the cross, the soul must passively endure God’s will. Personal will must be set aside and he must listen to the soul, similar to how Andrew followed in the suffering of Christ. The novices could see in this painting how the soul was victorious over the body, to then finally ascend into heaven.
Bernini used all means at his disposal to tell the story of Jacob de Voragine, being sculpting, architecture and painting. As Andrew is tied to the cross, he begs the Lord to ‘save him from this torturous ordeal’, meaning, the body. For the novice, the Andrew as anima represents the inclusion of the soul into heaven and the victory of the soul over the body.
If you compare this wall to the one of the Santa Maria della Vittoria by Maderno that we just visited, the differences are stark. Instead of straight, we now see convex and concave walls. The wall of the Sant’Andrea al Quirinale was modified by Bernini in 1675. The wall is made from a tympanum, supported by colossal Corinthian pillars. A superb convex portico, supported by two Ionian columns, invite the visitor to enter the church.
From the very start, Bernini wanted a small square in front of the church. There was room for a small court, but the wall that separated it from the Via Pia could not be removed according to Clemens X. This kept the wall of the church out of view for the passers-by. The church and the monastery were surrounded by walls on all four sides. According to the Racconto, the noviced had to be warded from regular folk and other indecencies that took place on the streets. Bernini made the old sacristy, to the right of the church, a bit bigger. This made the court smaller. To still achieve a symmetrical court, Gian Lorenzo placed a wall on the left side as well. Bernini placed fake windows in these walls across the real windows at the wall right of the sacristy’s court. This made the court fully symmetrical. The Jesuits did not receive permission to tear down the wall along the Via Pia until 1676, allowing the passers-by to view the wall of the church. Bernini had the side-wings constructed at the moment of the wall being removed. These wings were first seen in his papal drawings of 1658.
Originally, the wall of the Sant’Andrea would be finished with plaster. Yet, Giovanni Battista insisted this wall would instead be clad with marble, as it should not be too comparable with the wall of Borromini. Bernini’s answer to his funder was not only a marble wall, but also a round, slender portico with Corinthian colossal pillars, combined with Ionian columns.
The scale of the colossal pillars matches the exterior buttresses, while the Ionian columns are as large as the pillars in the church’s interior. This connects the exterior to the interior. Borromini’s work did not share the same similarity in size between the colossal columns and the small columns at the wall with the columns in the church.
The colossal pillars that Bernini used for the wall belong to Michelangelo. Buonarroti first applied them for the wall of the Palazzo dei Conservatori at the Campidoglio. Bernini’s colossal pillars very accurate copies of Michelangelo’s. Gian Lorenzo wanted to show that he was able to apply the Renaissance architecture in a very different context, with curved walls and oval plans.
Finally, we will have a look at the grave of St. Stanislaus Kostka (the room of Stanislaus Kostka can be reached via 7 on this map).
“[…] Stanislaus died on 15 August 1568, just under the age of eighteen, during a vision in which Mary came to him with a chorus of angels.
His room is a reconstruction, as the original rooms disappeared in 1872 when part of the monastery was claimed by the ministry for Royal affairs. The room shows a beautiful marble statue of St. Stanislas sculpted by the French artist Pierre Legros [or Pierre Le Gros Wikipedia] in 1703.
The artist used five marble colours: soft-pink for the bed, yellow for the mattress, grey-white for the pillows, black for the gown, white for the body parts. When he had completed the sculpture, the Protestant Legros was so delighted with it that he converted to Catholicism. The twelve paintings depicting the story of St. Stanislas are the work of Jesuit Andrea Pozzo, the painter of the unique trompe-l’oeil in Sant’Ignazio. The saint’s grave is in the church under the altar of the second chapel on the left.” Cited and translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘SPQR Anekdotisch reisgids voor Rome’ Rainbow, Amsterdam 2019 p. 185 Read more on Wikipedia
We walk back and after a few dozen metres find ourselves at another famous church at the Via XX Settembre: the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.